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Uttar Pradesh election: Right-wing monk and possible Modi successor Yogi Adityanath wins key Indian state

With wins in four out of five states, Narendra Modi’s BJP tightens hold on India ahead of national polls in 2024

Sravasti Dasgupta
Friday 11 March 2022 06:10 GMT
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Punjab Election 2022: Celebrations across state begins as AAP crosses half-way mark

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in the pole position in four out of five Indian states in elections seen as a crucial popularity test ahead of general polls in 2024, when prime minister Narendra Modi and his party will seek a third consecutive term.

On Thursday, India’s election commission counted votes for polls in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, which were held between 10 February and 7 March.

BJP is set to return with a majority in all states except Punjab, sealing the Hindu nationalist party’s hold over the country.

However, the party’s prize remains bellwether Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, which holds the key to the 2024 elections with 80 parliamentary seats up for grabs.

With its win in UP today, the BJP has become the first party to return to power for a second consecutive term in the state since 1985. Of the 403 seats in the UP Assembly, the BJP has either won or is set to win at least 270.

The incumbent chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who is known for his ultra right-wing, hardline politics, had faced scathing criticism for handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and growing unemployment in the state.

And yet, despite the anti-incumbency wave, his party improved upon its vote share by 5 per cent from the previous state-level elections held in 2017, by shoring up 44.6 per cent of the votes, reported NDTV.

BJP workers and supporters celebrate outside their party office in New Delhi on 10 March (EPA)

The BJP’s main opponent was the Samajwadi Party, led by former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Though it couldn’t cash in on the anti-incumbency wave, the party managed to improve its vote share from the 2017 elections by winning more than 127 seats.

Mr Adityanath has now become the only UP chief minister to get a renewed mandate after serving a full five-year-term in office. He had received immense support from the BJP’s ideological parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in his bid for a second term in UP, and has also emerged as a key prime ministerial candidate in 2024.

Mr Modi, 71, has led his party to two successive victories in the national elections in 2014 and 2019. But by the next national-level elections, he will be 73 and the party may seek a new face. Last week, federal home minister Amit Shah had heaped praise on Mr Adityanath and said that talks surrounding him contesting for the top job in 2024 were only “natural”, further fuelling these speculations.

The BJP, however, failed to strike in Punjab, a key border state, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ousted the incumbent Congress and secured a landslide victory.

The AAP is currently in power in capital New Delhi. With this victory, the eight-year-old party has managed to open its account in a second state in the country, and is well on course to becoming a key national player.

“To everyone watching me on TV, revolution has come to Delhi and now Punjab. Now is the time to bring the revolution across the country. [Incumbent chief minister Congress’s Charanjit Singh] Channi has been defeated by a candidate who works in a mobile repair shop,” AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal said in his victory speech.

Political observers see Mr Kejriwal as an emerging opponent for the BJP and Mr Modi in 2024.

Despite the loss in Punjab, the BJP retained its hold in the remaining states of Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

In Uttarakhand, the party has taken a lead of over 45 seats in the 70-member assembly, while in the north-eastern state of Manipur the party is leading in 31 of the 60 seats up for grabs. In Goa, the party has inched ahead of the Congress by leading in 20 seats of the 40-member assembly.

In a statement on Twitter, the BJP thanked its supporters and said: “Heartfelt gratitude to the people of all the states and congratulations to all the workers for their immense support to the BJP in the assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur-2022.”

While the BJP has tightened its hold over the country, the elections have also shown the continued decimation of the Congress party, which had ruled the country for seven decades.

With failures in all five states, the party has shown no signs of revival after being riddled by leadership crises in recent years.

Former Congress president and MP Rahul Gandhi in a statement on Thursday accepted his party’s defeat.

“Humbly accept the people’s verdict. Best wishes to those who have won the mandate,” he said in a tweet.

“My gratitude to all Congress workers and volunteers for their hard work and dedication. We will learn from this and keep working for the interests of the people of India.”

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